It’s been awhile since I’ve been incensed about something like this and so I wanted to weigh in on this issue from what I think might be a little different slant:
A recent article in the Seattle Times details how a few prominent evangelical Christian leaders have sketched the practice of yoga as something “demonic” – says Mark Driscoll, a prominent mega-church pastor in Seattle: “Should Christians stay away from yoga because of its demonic roots? Totally. Yoga is demonic… If you just sign up for a little yoga class, you’re signing up for a little demon class.” Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological adds his voice to the mix in an online essay last month: “Yoga begins and ends with an understanding of the body that is, to say the very least, at odds with the Christian understanding… Christians are not called to empty the mind or to see the human body as a means of connecting to and coming to know the divine. Believers are called to meditate upon the Word of God” (there are so many theologically jacked-up things about this statement BTW that it merits a separate blog post – won’t even get into Mohler’s distorted views about the human body and the logos, although I am seriously tempted to. In the least I don’t see at all how this statement incriminates yoga at all).
So, to summarize, the issue is the demonization of yoga.
MY PARTICULAR SLANT (WHY I’M INCENSED… AGAIN):
Two reasons. The first is socio-cultural. The second is theological. I’m gonna try to make this concise and clear as I know I tend to trail off into abstractions sometimes.
1. THE DEMONIZATION OF EASTERN CULTURE?
The demonic thing I don’t really care about. People are always saying something is demonic. It’s the implicit notion that yoga stems from Eastern culture and religion and thus should be demonized that bugs me so much because I can’t help but to find such a double-standard here. For example, Mixed Martial Arts, popular in America – and which Driscoll apparently is a big fan of – is steeped in Eastern mysticism. Yet it gets the green light because… ?
Lest you think I’m reading into it too much, let me take one step back. The West has been demonizing Eastern culture for a longer time than we care to admit. The Chinese Exclusion Act was a fairly recent blight on American history. In my old town of residence, Japanese women were once driven out, tabooized, because they were tempting the Protestant Christian men too much to lust. And then there were the 1907 race riots against Hindu Sikhs. So lest you think I’m “playing the race card” here too quickly when these prominent Christian leaders call yoga demonic, for me it’s the foremost issue, because the West has been demonizing Eastern culture for quite some time now. And lest you say Eastern culture is one thing, but Eastern religion is another… well that brings me precisely to my second – and theological – point regarding this fiasco.
2. “WHAT HAS TIBET TO DO WITH JERUSALEM?”
I don’t want to wax at length concerning the serendipity (or otherwise?) of Christianity being birthed in the West – I consider that elsewhere (What Has Athens To Do With Jerusalem?) – in a word, I think it was meant to be – and we are all the more fortunate for it. But at the same time I think we make a mistake when we uncritically accept the notion that Christianity is Western, and cannot be worked out from any other standpoint. We need non-Western voices to enliven our theology, yet it appears we are more apt to label the East, “demonic.” I mean, what is it intrinsically about “Eastern religion” that is so bad, and so demonic? Is it the increased “self-awareness?” the opening up of ourselves to new perspectives, to something “other”? Why, that sounds like Western psychology to me! Driscoll himself says:
“There’s not creator and creation (in yoga)… All is collapsed into what we call oneism. The result is that you don’t go out to God, you go into self. It’s not about connecting to God through the mediatorship of Jesus. It’s about connecting to the universe through meditation. It’s absolute paganism.”
If I may, I REALLY take issue with this statement. Because what he just described pretty much summarizes the Freudian / Jungian approach that we have wholesale adopted into our Christian methodologies of counseling, this “going into self” is basically what pop Western psychology is all about, and the church has basically appropriated it unthinkingly and wholesale. The only difference is, every now and then we pop in words like “God” and “Jesus” like extra sprinkles on top of ice cream. Here’s the crux; the plank is in our own eye, yet we go around calling Eastern religion “demonic.” It is entirely a double standard. If going into self were pagan, then all of America would be demonized by now, because self is king here.
So in the end, to reiterate, it’s not the demonic thing that bothers me about this latest round of gaffes; it’s the worldview that we here in the West can incriminate – yes, even demonize – anything Eastern, and for that matter, utilize such a double standard that we are not even aware of it. The grounds for this latest round of gaffes are at best, poorly chosen words betraying even more poorly thought-out worldviews, and at worst, as far as I can see it, just plain racism towards Eastern cultures.